Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pre-match in Africa

So I land at my fifth World Cup since Italia '90, expecting something big. I got it this morning waking up to Table Mountain outside my window, one of the world's most breathtaking vistas. I cursed out loud when I first saw it, it was so overwhelming.

My first sight of South Africa had to wait until I got used to the drone of vuvuzelas after a day's trek from London via Kenya to Johannesburg. If you thought those things were annoying on television, they were being blown yesterday in shops, at the bank and at hotel reception and the World Cup has not even started.

FIFA merchandising is everywhere and even more overpriced than back home. The usual terrorising of unofficial merchandisers has ensured only rip-off offical goods are on sale - stuff them.

But the locals are all partying already and that is all that matters. They seem the most excited hosts I have ever seen, with the unforgettable exception of the South Koreans in 2002. Enjoy it while it lasts you might say cynically, as Bafana Bafana have little chance of creating a soccer version of Invictus.

But with this fervor behind them, they have no excuse for not beating Mexico tomorrow. Even 91-year old Nelson Mandela has promised to be there, a 12th man for the home team if ever there were one.

Our white taxi driver in Cape Town last night told us not to walk in central Johannesburg, advice poo-pooed by a Zulu journalist we spoke to later. Funny how the crime fears are often split on racial lines.The crime is a worry, but should be less of an issue as the football takes over the headlines, and the fans are arriving en masse in their colors anyway, rejecting the security fears.

The most visible supporters so far? Mexicans, here for the opener, and those global adventurers, the Australians.

If there are more US than English soccer fans in Rustenburg, the World Cup really will have changed forever, whatever the result.

- Sean O'Conor, Cape Town

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